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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — When choosing where to eat on base, some enlisted troops here have one fewer option than they did a year ago.

Since reopening in August after a five-month renovation, Grissom Dining Facility has been off-limits to enlisted members drawing basic allowance for subsistence, an untaxed food stipend of about $250 a month.

Initially, the mess was to be open to meal-card holders and personnel on temporary duty only for 30 to 60 days after Grissom reopened Aug. 16. This was intended to give dining hall staffers time to adjust to a new buffet-a la carte serving style and to ensure there was enough food for meal-card holders, base officials said.

“We started realizing we needed more time, so we asked for an extension,” said Senior Master Sgt. Ray Magby, food services superintendent, 35th Services Squadron.

This week, Brig. Gen. Bill Rew, 35th Fighter Wing and Misawa base commander, signed a memorandum outlining who is authorized to use Misawa’s government dining facilities. The policy letter states, in part, that enlisted members drawing basic allowance for subsistence may use only the Falcon Feeder Dining Facility and flight kitchen, located near the flight line.

Those authorized on a routine basis to use Grissom — the main enlisted mess on base — are meal-card holders and TDY personnel.

Officials said the policy is temporary and Grissom will reopen to all enlisted troops sometime next year, though a date has not been set.

Magby and Capt. Seth Cunningham, 35th Services Squadron combat support flight commander, said Grissom is designed to serve primarily enlisted dormitory residents who don’t receive a monthly food allowance and eat for free at Grissom.

“This is their dining hall,” Magby said of dorm residents. “Capt. Cunningham and I can run over to Burger King, the club or even bring a lunch. This is their kitchen, if you will.”

Cunningham said meal-card holders, TDY personnel and boxed meals for aircraft crews are Grissom’s top priorities, as set forth in Air Force guidance.

“Once all those requirements are met, the wing commander has the option of opening it to other members on base,” he said.

About 1,700 troops are on the meal-card program, according to Magby. Between September and November of last year, when Grissom was open to all enlisted servicemembers, it served about 60,000 meals — paid both by cash and meal card — compared with 40,000 during the same time frame this fall.

Some airmen without meal-card privileges say Grissom should be open to all enlisted personnel. They say options on base are limited and lean toward the unhealthy, especially in the food court. Several airmen also said they would definitely go to Grissom for breakfast since there are few places to grab a quick meal in the morning.

“I would like to eat there because sometimes it gets old with all this fast food,” said Staff Sgt. Sudhakar Rengaraj, a traffic manager with 35th Logistics Readiness Squadron. At other bases Rengaraj has been to, such as McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas, “pretty much everybody could eat there,” he said.

“There’s only so many places you can go on base and the dining facility makes a variety of foods,” he added.

Staff Sgt. Willie Cooper, a transporter with 35th Logistics Readiness Squadron, said he’s heard Grissom’s food is much improved since the renovation — but since he’s married and receives basic allowance for subsistence, he hasn’t had the opportunity to check it out.

“I would definitely go there for the selection of more healthy foods,” he said Thursday, after grabbing lunch in the food court. “Everything here is fried food. We’re waiting for it to open up for everybody.”

Magby said the Grissom staff has worked through most of its growing pains. The renovated serving area has at least 18 food stations and no longer is a typical cafeteria where customers file through a serving line. People serve themselves at many stations, and there were issues with figuring out what equals a portion, since cashiers must account for number of food items, he said.

Some patrons, for example, “were taking five or six pieces of fried chicken and we were running out of it,” Cunningham said. To regulate portion size, “we’ve turned the spoons on some items and everything right now is not buffet style,” Magby said. “We’re pretty square with everything now.”

But Magby said officials still aren’t ready to open Grissom to all enlisted servicemembers because of “some mission changes in January.”

He would not elaborate, but base officials said Magby likely was referring to Misawa’s upcoming rotation in the Air Expeditionary Force cycle when, for several months, it will be difficult to predict how many personnel will be on station.

“Once the mission goes back to normal, we’ll go back to normal,” Magby said.

Who can eat at Grissom, and when

Those authorized to eat at Grissom Dining Facility, according to a 35th Fighter Wing policy letter published Nov. 29, include:

1. Enlisted servicemembers who are meal-card holders.

2. Personnel on temporary duty with orders authorizing them to use government dining facilities.

3. First sergeants, all E-9s and commanders at the squadron level and above, when eating to assess the food quality and quantity available for authorized personnel.

4. All officers and enlisted U.S. military members and their family members for special meals on the holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and the Air Force birthday. Spouses and children of enlisted members in ranks E-1 to E-4 will pay only the discount rate.

5. U.S. students and their chaperones when traveling as a group to participate in officially sanctioned Department of Defense Dependents Schools events or nationally recognized, nonprofit youth group activities, such as Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts. These groups first must receive prior permission from the food services superintendent to ensure priority customers are served.

Grissom’s hours are:

• Sunday through Saturday: Breakfast, 5:30 a.m. to 8:00 a.m.; lunch, 11:00 a.m. to 1 p.m.; dinner, 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.; Expressway, 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Midnight Meal, 10:30 p.m. to midnight.

• Holidays: Breakfast, 5:30 a.m. to 7 a.m.; lunch, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.; dinner, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.; Midnight Meal, 10:30 p.m. to midnight.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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